Bad Cop, No Donut:
A San Francisco deputy public defender was handcuffed and arrested at the Hall of Justice after she objected to city police officers questioning her client outside a courtroom, an incident that her office called outrageous and police officials defended as appropriate.
The Tuesday afternoon arrest of attorney Jami Tillotson as she denied police officers’ attempts to take photos of her client without explanation raised questions about police intimidation and harassment, Public Defender Jeff Adachi said at a Wednesday news conference.
But police said the five officers, led by a plainclothes sergeant, were investigating a burglary case in which Tillotson’s client and his co-defendant were considered persons of interest. Tillotson was cited for misdemeanor resisting or delaying arrest because she obstructed a police investigation, officials said.
“I was arrested for what we do as public defenders every day,” Tillotson said of the encounter, which was captured in a video that the public defender’s office posted on YouTube. “I asked questions. I talked to my client and explained to him his rights. At that point, I was told I was interfering and taken into custody.”
But wait! There’s more!
San Francisco police will not pursue charges against the deputy public defender who was arrested at the Hall of Justice when she objected to city police officers questioning a client outside a courtroom, Police Chief Greg Suhr said Wednesday.
The announcement came after the American Civil Liberties Union called for a review of department policy at a police commission meeting, saying the incident, which was filmed and viewed millions of times, raised serious questions about departmental tactics, especially in terms of racial profiling.
This case is a little more complicated than it might seem, but the cops were violating the spirit of the law if not the letter of it. The right to effective assistance of counsel should never depend on a cop’s interpretation of the law. As a matter of policy the police try to err on the side of the defendant’s rights, rather than trying to find ways around the Constitution.
As a matter of optics this was terrible. Too bad they aren’t pursuing charges against the Deputy Public Defender because this is the kind of case that ends up in front of SCOTUS. If there is no case there is nothing to appeal.
Defense attorneys are not potted plants. They have a duty to be zealous advocates for their clients. Criminalizing the defense of accused/suspected criminals creates a conflict of interest for the attorneys. Prosecutors have a certain amount of immunity for their official acts. Defense attorneys deserve protection too.